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Angela Graf-Nold

Jung’s ETH lectures on ‘Modern Psychology’ 1933-44: Jung’s contribution to the Social and Political Culture

Jung’s ETH lectures on ‘Modern Psychology’, 1933-41: Jung’s Contribution to the Social and Political Culture

Beginnings: The First Semester and Funds for Analytical Psychology Jung announced a course in ‘Modern psychology’ for the winter semester 1933/34 and held his first lecture in October 20th.

There was an enormous audience: 567 students had officially registered and the lecture had to be moved to the greatest lecture hall ‘Auditorium maximum’ which had 450 seats.

The audience consisted of regular students of the ETH , students of the university, students of the teachers’ seminars, students of therapeutic pedagogy, students of psychotechnics, patients, friends, members of the Psychological Club,
also later ‘Jungians’ of the first generation, colleagues of the ETH as F. Medicus, Eugen Böhler, Wolfgang Pauli, Rudolf Bernoulli, and interested Zürich citizens.

Barbara Hannah, the meticulous chronologist of the lectures, states in her later biography of Jung that Jung felt quite uncomfortable with this mass of people he was not used to.1

In his introduction to the audience Jung referred to his lectureship at the university, which he would have carried out with ‘mixed fortunes’, until he finally realized, that ‘lecturing about psychology presupposes an understanding of the subject’.

‘I travelled the world’, he said, ‘since our cultural sphere evidently lacks the Archimedic point that could provide something to hold on’ (trans. M. Kyburz).

He apologized for his missing experiences in the last 20 years in speaking to the younger generation and his fear therefore that he should be off the mark at times; so he encouraged the audience to send him their questions by post, but questions, he specifies, ‘within the scope of the lectures, not about the future of the European currencies, for instance, or the prospect of National Socialism’.

As for his chosen approach to the subject of ’modern psychology’‚ he explains, ‘I have chosen such a general title because the matters at hand are of a general nature.

Instead of engaging with specific doctrines my aim is to draw a picture based on immediate experience in order to depict the development of modern psychological ideas’ (trans. M. Kyburz).

Then Jung turned to an account of a prehistory of ‘modern psychology’; beginning with Descartes, he spoke about Leibniz, Kant, Hegel and others, drawing in the medical doctors who were interested in the personalities of their patients (P. Janet, William James), i.e., until the immediate present to which he himself belongs.

Jung exemplified this ‘psychological anthropology’ with two historic case studies, Justinus Kerner’s ‘Seeress of Prevorst’ (1829) and Théodore Flournoy’s ‘Hélène Smith’ (From India to the Planet Mars, 1900). Finally he explains the different
extreme relations of the two women to the inner and outer reality with a diagram where he also draws the ‘consciousness-curves’ of the ‘normal’ man, of Freud, Goethe, Nietzsche, the old Rockefeller and the Swiss National Saint Niklaus von der Flühe.

He ends up with the ‘transcendent function’ which enables everybody to make specific changes in consciousness.

With this first ‘crash course’ of his psychological programme Jung was obviously ‘off the mark’ for the normal students, and two groups of them wrote him letters.

The first group of 13 students complained about the breadth of Jung’s presentations, which did not put forward
enough of a deep understanding of his theories.

Another group of four complained about the difficulties in getting the interpretation of the historic case studies, a fact that they would deplore deeply since they would be interested and could not afford to attend his seminars at the Psychological Club because of their exclusivity and high costs.

Jung’s answer was quite defensive: ‘I am not prepared for that, and it would be quite immodest to put my own opinion in the foreground; I cannot say that I am identical with the “modern psychology”.’

But besides these pleas he accepted the complaints: In the next semester, during the summer of 1934 he began to teach about ‘basic terms and methods’, now for only 203 registered auditors, half of the previous audience and in a smaller lecture hall.

The students obviously had hit a critical point: was it his ‘modesty’ that swayed him about speaking ‘generally’ about modern psychology?

Or did his insecurity shape his view?

In fact his view of psychology in the first semester had been far from a ‘general’ view, he had gone a long way through the history of psychology, which could hardly be found elsewhere.

And obviously it was also clear for him, as well for some persons of his environment, that it could be a good thing to secure his position in his approach to psychology at the ETH more definitely and distinctly.

In the early summer of 1934 he offered a very generous donation to the ETH ; at the meeting of the School Council in July the ETH – President Rohn presented the detailed deed of the donation: Out of the amount which came ‘from several sides, mainly from Mr. Harold F. Mc Cormick’, he donates to the ETH an asset of 200 000 SFR (today about 2 million $) as ‘Funds to support analytical psychology and related areas’ (psychology funds).

The interests of the funds should be used for that mission, to contribute to the establishment of a lectureship or by the appointment of free lecturers for general psychology, with the condition ‘that the character of the psychology should be defined by the principle of universality, i.e., it should not be presented as a special theory or a special discipline; psychology should rather be taught in its biological, ethnic, medical, philosophical, cultural historical and religious aspects’.

The mission should be ‘to free the doctrine of the human soul from the oppression of the discipline and to give the student who is oppressed by his specialized study outlines and summaries for an orientation in areas of the life which their specialized studies don’t give’ (trans. AGN ).

The minister for Internal Affairs (Bundesrat Etter) who was present at that meeting of the School Council, especially, had some legal objections to some points of the donation contract, which the Swiss government had to sign.

But this was cleared at the next meeting, and the contract was signed in September 1934.

So Jung had established for the ETH as for himself the mission and the scope of the ‘general psychology’ which he would like to present and to stand for.

Three months later, in December, the School Council had another agenda item concerning Jung: the president of the conference of the general department proposed to grant Jung the title of professor in respect of his great scientific achievements and the fact ‘that he contributed by his lectureship not for higher reputation for himself but for the ETH , in adding his name to the staff of the ETH .

His achievements were discussed controversially, of course – as is always the way with great scientists.

None of the pioneers of modern psychology would meet in such remarkable measure the personal prerequisites of a comprehensive scientific culture as Dr. Jung.

There were no objections from the colleagues so the request was forwarded to the Swiss parliament for approval.

And on January 26th, 1935 Jung received a letter from the ETH -President Rohn stating that they were overjoyed (‘Es gereicht uns zum Vergnügen’) that the Swiss parliament had decided to grant him the title of Professor.

Obviously also Jung himself was overjoyed, and it appears that the title of Professor encouraged him immensely to identify professionally with ‘analytical psychology’ as a psychology which should provide orientation in all aspects of science, life and culture.

In any case in the following lectures Jung appeared much more lively, spontaneous and related to real life.

How he maintained and managed this course until summer 1941, and how actual and seminal his approach is still today, hopefully the forthcoming edition of these lectures will show.


The citations from the unpublished texts of Jung’s lectures are by courtesy of the Foundation of the Works of C.G. Jung.